D.C. Tex-Mex Restaurant Becomes Lunchtime Seat of House Power

Tortilla Coast has been around for more than 20 years, but in Washington, everyone wants a seat at this table.

The Capitol Hill Tex-Mex restaurant is the chosen hangout for a group of about 40 conservative Republicans called the House Freedom Caucus.

The caucus -- which the White House has dubbed the Tortilla Coast caucus -- meets in the restaurant's private basement dining room every week. Capitol Hill oral history has it that this is where strategy was plotted during the 2013 government shutdown.

And recent reports indicate the caucus has been meeting here as John Boehner announced he is stepping down as House speaker and majority leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race to replace him.

Not that the restaurant is going to confirm that. 

"I read that as well. I can't really speak to the veracity of that as I was not involved in any their discussions," said Will Westbrook, an assistant manager at the restaurant, with a neither-confirm-nor-deny aplomb that would stand him well in a congressional hearing.

But the guests are a little more forthcoming. 


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"They're down there talking about most things that go before the House," said Matt Fuller, who covers House leadership for Roll Call. "Certainly they're talking about the speaker election and what they want from it."

The location can't be beat -- down the street from the House office buildings and just past the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill.

Plus, chili con queso can be had for less than $6 at lunch.

"This is the place to get away and have some private conversations -- and maybe get something to eat, as well," Clinton Key, a consultant, said.

One more bit of Coast lore: Paul Ryan, who is being encouraged to run for Speaker of the House, was a Tortilla Coast waiter before he held elected office. 

"It would be kind of a full-circle moment if Paul Ryan became the speaker of the house," Fuller said.

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